Knowing our roots, our struggle began with a dream, a dream that someday we will reclaim the land that was once the source of life of our ancestors. We have dreamed that someday we will return to the sacred ground where our ancestors communed with the spirits and with each other. We dreamt of reclaiming our land that we lost to those who knew how to manipulate the laws. We have watched this land change hands not from a distance. At times we caressed the land and washed it with our sweat and tears as hired farm workers. Through the decades, the land was never far from us yet it seemed always beyond our reach - a wall of laws, titles, barbed wires and at times armed guards kept us away. But our dreams and longing never died through the passing of the generations.
After decades of seeming helplessness, our hopes were buoyed when in 1995 we became owners of the land through the agrarian reform program. But our rights under the law and our title meant nothing to those who wanted to keep our land for their own. Political maneuvers and influence, manipulations of the law, sheer brute force of arms kept us from taking possession of the land that is our birthright and the land that had become ours again through social justice. In the face of the injustices committed against us, we chose to fight for what is justly and rightfully ours, and in spite of the grave injustices committed against us, we chose the way of peace. We chose to starve ourselves during a hunger strike in 1997 over violence. We chose to insist on our legal rights through the courts that are biased against us, in the very legal system that is caught in the claws of the rich and the powerful. Grandiose plans of development, no matter how empty, were favored over our birthright and our hope to build our lives as farmer-tillers. Once again, the legal system worked against us and we were once again dispossessed.
Keeping ourselves intact despite the setbacks, we chose to be patient. We waited for 5 years for an opportunity to renew our claim. Our land changed hands again, but the development plans they pitted against our claim remained empty promises. We petitioned the government to act on the matter. We subjected ourselves to the legal processes and we have given our full trust to our government institutions. But our pleas fell on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Years passed and we found no light in the legal system and institutions.
And so we walked. We walked more than 1,700 kilometers, for over two months, away from our homes in Sumilao, to the very seat of power in Manila to make our voices heard. We left our homes with only our determination and belief in the justness of our claims, a faint glimmer of hope yet full of trustful prayers in our hearts. Against the odds and because of the unwavering support that our sacrifices had gathered, our Exodus brought us where we are now, on the eve of our homecoming. On the eve of our reclaiming and taking possession of the land we fought, sacrificed, and struggled for so long and so hard.
Acknowledging the hardships and sacrifices that we had to undergo, on this day we will celebrate the victory of perseverance, sacrifice and peaceful action. Our moral and legal claims over the land were reinforced by our undying commitment and our untiring resolve to suffer and sacrifice in the struggle for what is right and just.
Gaining confidence in ourselves and our rights are fruits of the patient and consistent formation our partners have given us. Today is also the triumph of those who embrace the liberating practice of the legal profession, of lawyers who chose to live lives in educating, empowering and defending the rights of the marginalized like us. Our triumph is the triumph of paralegalism and alternative lawyering as fostered by our late lawyers Attys. Bob Gana and Caloy Ollado. Our cause have been our partners since the beginning; this triumph is as much theirs as it is ours.
Acknowledging the tremendous and overwhelming impact that those who supported us gave to our campaign, today we also celebrate the victory of solidarity, of generous and unselfish hearts. We celebrate the triumph of fellowship and communion among people who broke the walls of indifference and passivity. We celebrate the victory of thousands of pairs of feet that joined us in our journey, the thousands of pairs of hands that fed us throughout our Exodus. We celebrate the thousand and one consoling and encouraging words that melted the frustrations and desperations gnawing our hearts and soothed our aching and tired bodies. We celebrate the solidarity of our brothers and sisters in faith - the loving embrace and tears of our Cardinal, the steady and solid hands of our bishops, the caring embrace of our priests, nuns and brothers, the companionship of the young and the old ordinary men and women of the communities that gave us shelter. This day, we celebrate the triumph of solidarity and peaceful communal action.
On the eve of our taking possession of our land and as we celebrate the end of our Exodus, we are aware that the system that has dispossessed us of our land, the system that worked against us and allowed the injustices that were committed against us, still remains intact. This system of inequity continues to work against peasants and prevents them from partaking of their just and rightful share of the bounty of our land.
As we end our Exodus, we remember our fellow farmers who walked with us in solidarity. The farmers from Baha Talibayog in Calatagan, Batangas are still suffering from the threat of being dispossessed of the land distributed to them though PD 27 which they have fully paid and have cultivated for almost three decades. We also remember fellow farmers in El Salvador, Misamis Oriental who are already CLOA-holders since 2001 but are not yet in actual possession and cultivation of their land because of a pending application for conversion of the former owner of the land. We remember too, the thousands of farmers from the Hacienda Yulo in Laguna who are, like us, victims of land conversion. We remember the tens of thousands of farmers in the haciendas of Negros and all over the Philippines whose lives continue to be in danger just because they have the right to own the land they slave for.
Today we remember the millions of landless farmers and farm workers who are in danger of losing the opportunity to rightfully and justly own the land they till as agrarian reform beneficiaries with the expiration of CARP this June 2008. We reiterate our call of reforming and extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program by enacting into law House Bill 1257 and Senate Bill 2047. We call on all to continue their support for the cause of these landless farmers.
Today our Exodus ends, but our dream of a more just and equitable society lives on. We renew our commitment to continue our struggle for meaningful reforms in our society. This struggle will only end when no more farmer shall fall victim to injustice, no more person needs to suffer and sacrifice like we did just to get what is right and just.
As we end this Exodus, we are aware that today would not have been possible without the support of the various organizations and individuals who believed in our cause. To them we will forever be grateful. We shall express our gratitude everyday as we till our land and soothe it to bear fruit for us, our children and our community, for our country.
Today our Exodus ends, today we finally become tillers of the land we own since the beginning.
Mapadayonong Panaghiusa sa Lumad alang sa Damlag (MAPALAD) San Vicent Landless Farmers Association (SALFA) Panaghiusa sa mga Mag-uumang Nakibisog alang sa Yuta sa Sumilao (PANAW-Sumilao)